Meet the UK Entrepreneur Planning to Crash Earth’s Platinum Market
There are 18,000 identified asteroids in near-earth orbit.
Space agencies have achieved what was once thought impossible, by landing unmanned craft on these celestial bodies. Now, a few companies are looking to mine them.
And the rewards could be truly astronomical.
As Mitch Hunter-Scullion, CEO and founder of the Asteroid Mining Corporation (“AMC”) explains, “A 1km diameter upper 90 percentile metallic platinum-bearing asteroid would be worth 9.115 trillion pounds” (three times the UK’s annual GDP). “It is a lot of money”, Mitch notes with a chuckle.
AMC is the first and only UK company in the asteroid mining business, though similar ventures have sprung up elsewhere.
How does it work?
We know that asteroid landings are possible: NASA touched down and may have even retrieved samples from the asteroid “Bennu” in October of 2020. At the same time, commercial ventures like SpaceX are significantly reducing the costs associated with launching spacecraft. Together, these developments mean that prospective miners are worrying less about getting to the asteroid, and more about the problems of mineral extraction and retrieval. Miners will need to build structures on the asteroid bodies and then cycle cargo between the mining rig and earth’s orbit. The business of actually getting the resources down to the surface would only proceed once a substantial payload of metals had been collected.
Asteroid mining sounds a lot more difficult conceptually than it actually is.
Mitch is confident about his prospects: “asteroid mining sounds a lot more difficult conceptually than it actually is” – and Goldman Sachs agrees. The main problem, Mitch claims, will be maintaining a zero-gravity operation. Here AMC is looking to its university partnerships, like the million pound development deal signed with Tokohu University last December. AMC and Tokohu have begun working on a new generation of machines capable of maintaining equipment in the extremes of space – “scary space robots, as we like to call them”, Mitch adds.
Asteroid mining has already proved itself to be a challenging market. In 2019 the two largest North American initiatives – Deep Space Industries and Planetary Resources – both ran into significant financial issues. Mitch is clear about the lessons learned from these setbacks: an asteroid mining business can’t “hold out for more funding from investors”. He sees AMC’s R&D work as key to the medium-term future of the company. By selling mining, extraction and robotic equipment, AMC plans to be a profitable space business before it mines its first asteroid.
AMC’s first prospecting expedition APS-1, expected in 2023, is set to be funded through organic capital generation. Together with the planned commercial launch of AMC’s robotic prospecting equipment in 2024, Mitch is hoping this launch will allow AMC to bring in more investors ahead of their first mining expedition (AEP-1, expected for 2027).
If AMC pulls off a successful mission it really might change the world.
Hydrogen fuel cells and smartphones are both heavily reliant on platinum. In December 2020, 1g of the stuff was worth over £33,000. As Mitch observed, the target of his 2027 mission contains more Platinum than has ever been mined in earth’s history.
The challenges are huge, but as Mitch is keen to point out “this isn’t a quick buck”, it’s about a “bigger vision”.
Image Credits: Header – University of Central Florida, College of Sciences.